It all started when I saw this bumble bee on my winter flowering honeysuckle on 12 December 2016. Usually I see only the B. terrestris (queens and workers) and the honey bees just now. I recognised it as a bumble bee that I see frequently around here in the spring and I thought I would have another go at identifying it.
This is me in April 2013 trying to get close up, to see if I could learn a bit more about bumble bees. This is what I thought must be pascorum, the commonest carder.
Going back to April 2011, my stripey common carder bee.
This is 6 March 2014 and these fluffy carders are a favourite – common or not.
In addition to these completely fluffy, stripey ones, I also see ones with this dark brown band around the top of their abdomen. It must be a brown-banded bumble bee, I thought in my naivety. However, these bees do not check out to Stephen Falk’s description in the “Field Guide to the bees of Great Britain and Ireland”. It was at this point I gave up going further with bumble bees.
I have now compared Bombus humilis in Atlas Hymenoptera Les bourdons de la Belgique and although B. humilis has now all but vanished in Belgium, one of the three types of examples (yes, three) looks very much like my brown banded bee.
I must admit that the three types of B.humilis in the Atlas Hymenoptera do not look like the same bee to me which leads me again into despair of the variations of colourings in bumble bees.
So what should my conclusion be? Return to my “give up” position for identification? Yet, The Bumblebee Conservation Trust in the U.K. encourages amateurs to get involved.
I do not want to identify bees like a train spotter to increase my list but I think it is very unlikely that anyone else has ever tried to identify a bee in this area. I would have liked to make an attempt, however crude, to quantify the diversity around me but perhaps this is not possible and samplings must be left to the experts.
Today (21.2.14) I saw the first bumble bee in my plum tree with a very healthy looking pollen load. I’ve been seeing lots of queens throughout the winter but none were gathering pollen. This one has decided its time to start making use of the abundant blossom pollen that is around and start building a nest.
The next first is not so nice so don’t look at the next two photographs if you are of a sensitive disposition. I noticed a tiny mining bee making a hole in the ground beside the stem of a daisy in the grass.
It was not until I had looked at the photographs on the computer that I realised that there was a gaping hole in its abdomen. I suppose a parasite has made a meal out part of the bee and it will not survive for much longer.
Passing on, I was surprised to notice several new heaps of soil underneath the plum tree which means that the first mining bees are emerging. It seems very early and I am not quite as far on as I had hoped in my reading. Last year there were two types of mining bee under the plum tree that I saw. I watched the holes as much as I could but I saw no bees coming and going.
And fourthly, I saw my first Bombus lapidarius of the year. She was looking still very groggy from her winter hibernation and was walking around in the grass.
In fact, I was getting a bit concerned for her well being and I tried to give her some sugar and water and I put her on a sunny stone step to warm up. She ignored the sugar and water but enjoyed the sunshine and finally lifted off with the grace of a vertical take-off jet.
According to F.W.L. Sladen the only species I could confuse her with is Bombus ruderarius which although much rarer is very similar but has red hairs around the corbicula or pollen basket.
While she was sunbathing I got a good picture of her hind legs and the black hair, so I am satisfied she is Bombus lapidarius, or the red-tailed bumblebee.
Like all the bumblebees she loves our Wisteria.
Red tailed male
This photograph is from August last year and shows the male. He has yellow hair on his face and a yellow band in front of the black thorax.
I like bees and I’d like to think the feeling is mutual.
This is the fourth bee I hope to have identified although by trying to identify bumble bees I am going where angels fear to tread. I never realised how difficult it is to identify bumble bees because their colouration, at once so distinctive can also be variable intra species and confusing interspecies because of similarities between the species. It is safer to identify them just as bumble bees but I hope I am safe with this one.
Bombus pratorum is usually the first bumble bee to start nesting. I took this photograph on the 28 February 2013. It was a cool spring and I think this was a young queen.
Outside the garden I see them on red dead nettle ( Lamium purpureum). I find the workers very fast flying and difficult to photograph and I do not have a good photograph of a male – yet.
Inside the garden they frequent the Lamiastrum and ..
I have started to read “The Humble-Bee” by F.W.L. Sladen for the second time. The first time I read it too quickly because I was enjoying it too much – despite the fact that I had purchased a cheap paperback edition as I had not got much expectations of the readability of a book first published in 1892. Now I am savouring my new hardback edition with colour plates. I am very much in awe of Sladen who had worked all this out before he was sixteen and I am struggling to upload the information he presents to me ready packaged.
Sladen notes that the colonies break up in July. I tend not to see them in the garden before that so perhaps as the spring progresses they have more wild flowers to forage outside of the garden.
Sladen notes that he has seen them as late as September in a garden at Ripple, England.
I see them for the last time here in France as late as October.